Darius Garland was always supposed to be special. The son of a former NBA player, Garland joined a travel team in the 4th grade so he could go against older players because he needed the competition. And after 6th grade, his entire family decided to move 6 ½ hours away so Garland could play with two of his AAU teammates at Brentwood Academy in Tennessee where just a few years earlier Brendan Wright had excelled. Darius Garland was on the fast track to being special.
“Practice habits were huge with him. I hope I instilled that in him. If you put out the blood, sweat, tears in practice, I instilled that the game would come easy.”Winston Garland, Darius’ father and 5 year NBA veteran
Once he arrived at Brentwood Academy, Garland immediately started to have an impact; starting for the varsity team in 8th grade. He just kept improving from there, winning Tennessee men’s player of the year award for three straight years starting with his sophomore season.
During his junior year, we saw Darius commit to coach Bryce Drew’s program at Vanderbilt and his stock rose even further, becoming the top ranked point guard in his class for his senior season. After winning those three straight player of the year awards to go along with four straight state championships, Darius Garland was going to play for the coach who helped him back when he was first starting out. A cookie cutter story of a talented, likeable young athlete who was doing right by someone who had done so for him when he was a child was the perfect alley-oop for his freshman season at Vanderbilt to catapult him into NBA stardom.
“We didn’t have the team to be there, yet he kind of brought everybody up. He elevates everybody else’s game”Hubie Smith, Brentwood Academy coach
Before even playing a minute for the Vanderbilt Commodores, Darius Garland was the best prospect to ever suit up for the team. The only freshman making the SEC all-conference preseason team, Garland led all players in his first game with 24 points before putting up what would be his college career high at 33 points a game later.
But his season (and thus college career) was cut short a few games later when against Kent State Darius would suffer an injury to his meniscus that would keep him out. Shortly after the injury, Coach Drew announced that Garland would be leaving the team to recover and prepare for the upcoming NBA draft. After 5 short games, the best recruit in Vanderbilt history was headed to the league.
Between the shortened season in college and not participating in the physical side of the combine, there were plenty of skeptics of Garland’s shoot-first style that thought he might slip down the draft boards of teams. He didn’t slip far, getting picked up by the Cavaliers in the #5 spot to pair with Collin Sexton as the backcourt of the future in Cleveland.
The “Special” Ability is Starting to Shine Through
Like most rookie point guards, it took a season for Garland to adjust not just to the speed of the other players but getting back in the swing of playing competitive basketball after missing so much of his lone college season. Now that he’s had a year to get used to playing beside Sexton to form the popular “Sexland” pairing, Garland has shown the offensive ability that his supporters believed to be there from the beginning.
“The game is just evolving into the way that I play and how I like to play.”Darius Garland
With the wave of change that has swept the league in regards to what’s expected out of positions (and whether positions are even the same anymore), Garland’s quote above from before he was drafted is coming to pass in the league as shots around the rim and behind the arc continue to be the sweet spots for players; shooting only 9 percent of his shots in that dreaded 14 feet plus range inside the the three point line.
And with almost half of his shots coming from behind the three point line, it’s impressive that amongst point guards that have played at least 500 minutes this year Garland is 5th in 3 point percentage, trailing only Reggie Jackson, Steph Curry, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Mike Conley.
His ability to put the ball in the basket was never really in doubt; though it is nice to see almost all of his three point attempts coming from above the break. Coming into the league, Garland’s talents at shooting from the Curry/Lillard range were the most tantalizing and teams have played him accordingly.
Battling strong closeouts that try and see him not getting a chance to pull from three even 25 feet from the basket, Garland has become one of the league’s best driving point guards in the league. He’s been one of the best in the league at isolating on the perimeter before driving into the paint and either taking a shot or dishing off to a teammate. While the end results haven’t always come through, the execution and play style for success is shining through.
“He was already destined for this”Bradley Beal
Seeing Garland’s ability to attack the rim has been great for his progress on the offensive end, but it was his playmaking ability for others that his skeptics saw as his biggest drawback coming out of Vanderbilt. This year though, except for the boneheaded plays that young players are prone to make, Garland has been one of the best playmakers on the court this year.
The advanced playmaking stats show that, when creating, Garland has been excellent in the quality of assists he gets, the variety of assists he gets, and the ability he has to stretch the floor by racking up assists by passing all over the court. That ability to drive into the lane, break a defense down, and then pass to either corner or anywhere else on the court is going to open the game up even more for Garland as he develops his skills even further.
All the tools are coming together for Darius Garland to be able to reach his potential in the NBA. He has a quality backcourt partner in Collin Sexton who is happy to take the tougher defensive assignment and plays off of Garland’s game well (shooting 40% off catch and shoot threes this year) and a rookie 3-and-D wing in Issac Okoro who is already showing promising signs on the defensive end as a potential lockdown type defender with Jarrett Allen providing elite level rim protection to go along with whatever talent they are able to add in the draft this year.
Darius Garland has been given the chance to prove to the world he was meant to be special. Now it’s time to see if destiny comes through for him.
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